McLaughlin: Recycling responsibly in Summit County (column) |

McLaughlin: Recycling responsibly in Summit County (column)

Deborah McLaughlin
Guest column

Is it really that hard to put the right plastic bottles, paper, cardboard, glass, cans and scrap metal into the bins marked with signs that spell out what is acceptable in our recycling receptacles?

If you can read, you can recycle. If you can’t read, you can recycle because the bins also have visual examples of what goes in each one.


At Summit County recycling centers, the No. 1 clear plastic bottles with screw tops, lids removed, go into the No. 1 plastic bin. Actually, this bin should be empty because everyone needs to be using refillable, reusable bottles. We have good water in Summit County, so there is no reason to purchase water in bottles.

The No. 2 colored plastic bottles go into the No. 2 plastic bin, including milk jugs, detergent bottles, shampoo bottles and more. If uncertain, look on the bottom of the container. If there is a two, it goes in the No. 2 bin. Once again, remove the lids.

Plastic bags, clamshells, yogurt containers or any plastic containers that are marked three to seven on the bottom do not go into our recycling bins. Plastic bags should not be used in Summit County because all of us have access to reusable nylon or cotton bags from many retailers. Then the plastic bags would disappear and not be in recycling bins or stuck in our aspen tree limbs or floating in our streams.

Eighty-six percent of plastic bottles in the U.S. end up in a landfill or scattered in the environment. Littering plastic bags and other plastic garbage pollutes the oceans, killing as many as 1,000,000 sea creatures each year. Antonio Guterres at a U.N. conference on June 5 warned about a recent study estimating that discarded plastic garbage in ocean water is on track to outweigh fish by 2050.


Paper is one material that can easily be recycled. We need to take the time to save paper products, including newspapers, magazines, junk mail, some packaging, shredded documents, etc. Forty percent of all waste is paper that no one bothered to put into the recycle bin for paper. You know who you are. Using old paper to make new paper uses about 50 percent less energy and reduces papermaking pollution by 95 percent.

Purchase recycled paper products to complete the recycling cycle.

Recycling 1 ton of paper saves 17 mature trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 3 cubic yards of landfill space, 4000 kilowatts of energy and two barrels of oil.


Recycle cardboard and paperboard like cereal boxes, six-pack containers and brown paper bags. Be considerate of your neighbors and flatten the boxes because other people want to recycle besides you and they need room in the bins for their cardboard, too.

Cardboard containers with a wax coating like milk cartons do not go into our cardboard recycling bins. Also, cardboard boxes that are not flattened and full of plastic or bubble wrap do not go into cardboard recycling bins until emptied of contents and flattened.

Recycling cardboard takes 24 percent less energy and produces 50 percent less sulfur dioxide than making cardboard from raw materials. Cardboard can be recycled many times without losing its strength.


This could get a little confusing because we have a receptacle for clear glass and another for colored glass. All of the colored glass is mixed together in the colored glass bin.

Why is it important to separate clear from colored glass? There is no method to remove color from glass. So clear glass cannot be made when mixed with colored glass because the new glass will be gray, unappealing to food and beverage manufacturers. Clear glass in Summit County is valuable because we have the Rocky Mountain Bottling Company in Golden. Clear glass is their feedstock and more valuable. Clear glass is the most local material that we can recycle. Sort your glass and keep the clear glass bin clear.

Do not try to recycle other sorts of glass such as window glass, mirrors, light bulbs, drinking glasses or ceramic jars and bottles. Throwing something other than glass bottles into the recycling bins could turn the contents into garbage. Do not put old toilets in the clear glass recycling bin (yes, this really happened).

By making new glass bottles from 50 percent recycled material, enough energy is saved to power 45,000 households for a year and prevent 181,550 tons of waste from entering landfills each month.


More beverage containers are made from aluminum than any other product. If an aluminum can is thrown away, it will remain an aluminum can in the landfill 500 years from now. Every ton of new aluminum cans that must be produced to replace cans that were not recycled requires 5 tons of bauxite ore, which is strip-mined, crushed, washed and refined into alumina before it is smelted. The process creates about 5 tons of caustic mud that can contaminate surface water and groundwater and damage the health of people and animals.

However, if recycled, the can will be a new can within six weeks and can be remade into new aluminum cans over and over again.

In 2013, $812 million worth of aluminum cans were not recycled and ended up in landfills. These landfilled cans could have been recycled and made into new cans. Recycling steel and tin cans saves 74 percent of the energy used to make them from virgin materials.

The scrap metal recycling includes items such as metal flashing, steel, rebar, aluminum siding, but NO appliances, propane or fuel tanks, TVs, computers, barbed wire or batteries. The scrap recycling industry annually transforms more than 130 million metric tons of obsolete metal into useful raw materials. Without scrap recycling, more mining and use of virgin natural resources would be required.

A steel mill using recycled scrap reduces water pollution, air pollution and mining waste by about 70 percent. The United States annually processes more than 250 billion pounds of scrap material — the weight of 70 million cars.


Every year, each American throws out about 1,200 pounds of organic material that can be composted. Organics break down without oxygen in a landfill environment, contributing to large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Keep organics out of our landfill by participating in the High Country Conservation Center’s composting program for a small fee or compost at home.

Composting transforms waste into valuable soil, saves space in landfills and helps slow climate change. Instead of watching our Dillon landfill get bigger and more expensive to maintain, try composting.

Compost fact: Food scraps usually make up about 25 percent of your trash. In the U.S. that’s over 60 million tons of food scraps and yard trimming each year.

So why, when I go to the recycling center, am I astounded by what is thrown into the carefully marked bins? If you are going to the trouble of recycling your garbage, please take an extra five minutes to do it right so the rest of the material in the containers isn’t contaminated. If your items are not eligible for recycling, dispose of them properly, not in our recycling receptacles.

The U.S. is the top trash-producing country in the world. Americans throw away nine times as much waste as a person in Africa or Central America. Seventy-five percent of our trash is recyclable. Summit County is much lower than the national average for recycling participation. It’s hard to believe that we are not more protective of our environment. So let’s recycle in Summit County and do it right, including residents, businesses, second-home owners and visitors.

For questions about recycling, contact High Country Conservation Center at or 970-668-5703.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Now more than ever, your financial support is critical to help us keep our communities informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having on our residents and businesses. Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.

Your donation will be used exclusively to support quality, local journalism.

For tax deductible donations, click here.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User